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EHF European League

Montpellier only have eyes for the big prize

EHF / Chris O'Reilly

For most of the past decade, the discussion around the EHF Cup’s hot favourites has revolved around the German clubs. Well, that is not the case in the new-look European League with Montpellier in the mix.

Naturally, the restructuring of club competitions has made the second tier much stronger and the inclusion of the 2018 EHF Champions League winners is a clear sign of that.

  • two-time EHF Champions League winners, in 2003 and 2018
  • 2018 title was a phenomenal story as they went all the way from groups C and D to the trophy
  • reached the EHF Cup Final in 2014, losing to Szeged
  • beat Skjern in a thrilling qualification round 2 battle

The burning question – can Montpellier win their second European title in four years?

Montpellier are not just here for a good time, they have their eyes on the prize. With a squad featuring Diego Simonet, Melvyn Richardson, Valentin Porte, Hugo Descat and Marin Sego, they could easily be competing in the EHF Champions League and there is no reason to suggest they will not be major contenders in the new European League.

Coach Patrice Canayer knows exactly what it takes to win at this level and wants to be there at the business end of the season: “The ultimate objective is to fight to the end to win a new European title.”

Their qualification victory over Skjern in round 2’s headline encounter was a serious test for them and a sign of the long road to come. Montpellier journeyed through a similarly long campaign en route to European glory in 2018.

“My biggest motivation is to achieve a full season with my club without interruption and win the European title this season. The EHF European League must be within our reach and we will give ourselves all the means to win this competition this season,” claims captain Valentin Porte.

Signature players

The magician – Diego Simonet

Few players can turn a game on its head as well as Argentina’s finest. He proved that at the EHF FINAL4 in 2018 when he was named MVP but has struggled with injuries in recent years, affecting his consistency.

If Simonet can stay fit for the entire season, he will make every Montpellier match worth watching.

The showstopper – Melvyn Richardson

Son of the legendary Jackson Richardson and he possesses some of his father’s je ne sais quoi. Still only 23 but the left-hander has added plenty of strings to his bow.

A magnificent and unpredictable jump shot is his greatest strength at right back, but he has displayed his versatility recently as a centre back and right wing.

Captain fantastic – Valentin Porte

I would have this man in my team any day of the week. An ever-reliable player who always delivers composed and battling performances, while occasionally producing ridiculously good plays out of nowhere.

Equally capable as a right back and wing, Porte is a fitting captain for this talent-laden squad and the man you want to be taking the final shot with the scores level in a big game.

A night to remember

More than just a night to remember, it was a season to remember for Montpellier in 2017/18.

Having come from the depths of groups C and D, where few thought teams could mount a challenge, they were part of the French takeover in Cologne alongside PSG and Nantes.

Having beaten reigning champions Vardar in the semi-final, Nantes were the opponents on 27 May.

“Direct elimination matches are always very difficult and these victories always bring their share of surprise and supreme happiness that can only be experienced through these matches,” explains Patrice Canayer.

Nantes stood strong for 55 minutes, before EHF FINAL4 MVP Diego Simonet and his teammates took full control and made their fairy tale come true.

After Nantes took control early on, Montpellier turned a 4:2 deficit into a 10:7 advantage thanks to four goals from the formidable Ludovic Fabregas.

Though Nantes fought hard, boosted by the great atmosphere their purple-dressed fans and the musicians created, they could not take the upper hand, and found themselves behind by three at the break.

With Simonet controlling the attack and Vincent Gerard brilliant between the posts, Montpellier never looked back and could enjoy what they were about to achieve in a 32:26 victory.

“The progress from the lower groups and beat Barcelona, Flensburg, Vardar and Nantes, to win in Cologne as we did remains an unforgettable moment for me and the team,” says Valentin Porte.

Arrivals and departures

Newcomers: Alexis Borges (FC Porto), Lucas Pellas (Lugi Lund), Benjamin Bataille (US Ivry)

Left the club: Mathieu Grebille (PSG Handball), Nikola Portner (Chambéry Savoie Handball), Benjamin Afgour (US Dunkerque Handball), Mohamed Soussi (Tremblay en France Handball)

Past achievements

EHF Champions League
Winners (2): 2002/03, 2017/18
Semi-final (1): 2004/05
Quarter-final (5): 2000/01, 2005/06, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2016/17

Last 16 (6): 1995/96, 2003/04, 2006/07, 2011/12, 2014/15, 2016/17

EHF Cup:
Finalists (1): 2013/14
Quarter-final (1): 1996/97

Cup Winners’ Cup:
Quarter-final (1): 2001/02

French league: 14 titles (1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)
French cup: 13 titles
French league cup: 10 titles

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